A group of fourth-graders might soon make history for their role in naming the first new Nebraska state symbol in more than 20 years.
If someone asked you what the state vegetable is, you would probably guess corn. Corn, after all, is crucial to Nebraska. The state produces the third most corn of any state, behind Iowa and Illinois.
But Nebraska has no state vegetable, yet. The most recent state symbol to be named was in 1998, when then-Gov. Ben Nelson declared milk the state beverage, according to the Nebraska Blue Book. In 1981, the Legislature named the white-tailed deer as the state mammal. The Legislature hasn’t named a state symbol since.
But Legislative Bill 105, introduced by State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, could change that. It would give corn the nod as the state’s official vegetable.
The idea was brought to her by 26 fourth-graders at Reagan Elementary School in the Millard district when she spoke to their class. They wrote persuasive essays for Linehan, including mentioning that Nebraska leads the nation in popcorn production.
It started when their teacher, Thomas Whisinnand, asked for an idea for Nebraska’s state fruit or vegetable.
They responded with, “We’re the Cornhusker State!” “It should be corn!” Whisinnand said.
(The state name became the “Tree Planter’s State” in 1895, but the 1945 Legislature said it liked the “Cornhusker State” better. Sorry, Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton.)
The students are getting real-world experience in how a bill becomes a law, and how an idea becomes a bill, Whisinnand said.
The bill will have a hearing Monday by the Executive Board of the Nebraska Legislature, and the students will watch live coverage.
Q: But I thought corn was a grain? A: Uh, the bill to make corn the state vegetable was the idea of fourth-graders, so take it easy on them. There’s overlap.
Corn is a vegetable, grain and fruit. In a culinary context, it’s a vegetable. It’s a grain because it can also be a dry seed. But it can also be a fruit, because fruits bear seeds.
Q: Wait, we haven’t had a new state symbol in a while? I thought we just named a state reptile! Nope. In 2017, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission held a vote, and the ornate box turtle won with more than double the amount of votes as the runner-up, the bullsnake.
But no one has yet followed through to make it the state’s official state reptile via the Legislature. However, there’s been a proposalto put the turtle on a specialty license plate.
Q: Do other states have a state vegetable? A: Yes. Illinois declared corn as the state vegetable in 2015 after a group of fourth-graders had the idea there, too. In 2017, corn also became the official grain of Illinois; high schoolers had that idea. Corn is also the state grain in Wisconsin.
Watermelon has been the official vegetable of Oklahoma since 2007. The strawberry was already the state fruit, so a senator who represents melon farmers decided to classify watermelon as a vegetable. In 2015, a senator there attempted to remove the melon’s honor as the top veggie.
The potato is the state vegetable in Idaho and New Hampshire, and the sweet potato in Louisiana and North Carolina. In Georgia, the state vegetable is the Vidalia sweet onion. In South Carolina, it’s collard greens.
Q: What are some other Nebraska state symbols? Some of them you might have learned about in a Nebraska school, like the state flower (the goldenrod), bird (western meadowlark) or tree (cottonwood). Others named before 1981 are the state fossil (mammoth), gemstone (blue chalcedony), rock (prairie agate), grass (little bluestem), insect (honeybee) and soil (Holdrege series).
Nelson declared the state fish to be the channel catfish in September 1997, and a few days later he named square dance as the state American folk dance. The next month, “A Place Like Nebraska” by Sol Kutler was named the state ballad. On the same day, Nelson named Wakefield the baseball capital of Nebraska, and St. Paul the historic baseball capital.
In 1998, Nelson named the Platte as the state river.
Milk is the state beverage, but Kool-Aid is the state soft drink. Maybe someday the Runza will become the official German sandwich of Nebraska.